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Book Heat Level: 4
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Scotland, Summer 1513:
For a moment the man's gaze met hers, bored into her heart, questioned. Blood curdling war cries rode the wings of death through the timeless night. Claymores clashed. Dark eyes the color of midnight flashed a challenge. The holy man's opponents hesitated then lunged once more.
Moonbeams reflected light from the gold chain he wore around his neck. Brown robes fell from massive shoulders. Three more enemies appeared from the trees. The priest fell to the ground, wounded by the broadside of his enemy's weapon. Motionless, he lay on her flower-strewn meadow, blood staining the grass and wildflowers, marring the colorful, summer landscape.
Keely Gray woke, heart pounding a rapid staccato. She pressed against her throbbing temples with sweat-slick palms, hoping to ease the horrific pain that always accompanied the dreams. Death--the scent of blood, fear and treachery still hung heavy in the darkened hut. The prickling sensation radiating from her spine to encompass her body was too familiar.
She listened and heard nothing.
A dark void impaled her. The usual night sounds stilled. She heard no hoot of owl, no chirp of crickets, no croak of frogs, nor could she hear the mournful sighing of the wind through the branches of the old oak trees.
Silence emptied her heart as well as her soul, leaving only an ever-present loneliness.
Keely wanted nothing more than to cuddle into her bed and pull the covers over her head. Despite the unspeakable agony deep in the pit of her stomach, she rose from her pallet. Her limbs trembling, she slipped a shapeless tunic over her head and soft-soled shoes onto her feet. As she swept past the front door, she grabbed her woolen cloak.
Light from a full moon illuminated the path. She could see, but she could also be seen, the moonlight both a curse and a blessing. Approaching the meadow she'd watched in her dreams, she slowed her pace and waited. Her fingers wound tightly around the amber pendant she always wore, her only keepsake from her mother.
The sounds and scents hovering on the wind would tell her if danger still lurked. Caution guided her. A vigilance she'd learned long ago held her motionless.
A familiar dragging sound reassured her she wasn't alone. "Whipple?" she whispered.
A self-appointed guardian angel appeared as if from nowhere then nodded, though there was a wary cast to his faded blue eyes. "Aye, lass, I'm here. I heard ye leave your hut. I would not leave ye alone to face whatever dangerous mission awaited."
Keely waited for Whipple to close the distance between them before she spoke. "I would argue with you about your appearance here at this great hour, but I ken it would do no good. You should not be here. Your heart--"
Whipple spat. "My heart is fine."
She determinedly stepped forward, approaching the meadow of her dream, knowing she wouldn't like what she found.
"Have it your way, then." Given a choice, Keely wouldn't have come to this meadow. But she had to know the truth--had she seen the future or something happening at that very moment?
Whipple didn't reply. On his clubfoot, he followed her, his trailing leg sliding behind him with a soft swish. The hard thud of his crooked oak cane followed at a slightly skewed interval.
Together they crested the hill. Below her, she saw her dream. A priest lay on the ground, his head twisted at an odd angle. For a moment her heart stopped. She bit down on her lower lip while she studied the man.
Keely tried to ignore the helplessness pooling deep within, and attempted to push the burgeoning tears away. A frisson swept over Keely's skin.
She approached the priest cautiously; he could be playing with her, waiting for her to get within reach of those powerful hands.
Warily, she eyed Whipple. A few moments of silent observation convinced Keely the stranger wasn't lying in ambush. He was too still, not visibly breathing. Keely feared the man was dead. He lay utterly motionless; his limbs at awkward angles, his head wound oozing blood. The slow welling of blood from the wound told her he was still alive. She kneeled beside the priest. "He's not dead, Whipple." Her fingers hovered above his weak pulse. She watched the slight rise and fall of his sturdy, broad chest. Yet she did not dare touch him.
Whipple inhaled sharply. "Do ye mean to take him to your hut, lass? I cannae allow ye to do such a dangerous thing. Ye have no idea who or what he is. Ye do not ken his purpose here or his intent."
"He is a priest. Besides, there is nothing else we can do."